UNEP estimates food loss and waste costs global economy ‘£792.5 trillion’

A report from the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) has shown that households across the world wasted over 1 billion meals a day in 2022, while 783 million people were affected by hunger, with a third facing food insecurity.

Households across the world wasted 'over 1 billion meals a day' in 2022

The UNEP Food Waste Index Report 2024, co-authored with WRAP, aims to provide an accurate global estimate on food waste at retail and consumer levels, providing guidance for countries on improving data collection and best practices in measuring and reducing food waste.

The 1.05 billion tonnes of food waste generated (including inedible parts) amounted to 132kg per capita, with almost one-fifth of all food available to consumers.

60% of the food waste happened at the household level, with food services responsible for 28% and retail 12%.

“Food waste is a global tragedy. Millions will go hungry today as food is wasted across the world,” said Inger Andersen, executive director of UNEP. “Not only is this a major development issue, but the impacts of such unnecessary waste are causing substantial costs to the climate and nature.

“The good news is we know if countries prioritise this issue, they can significantly reverse food loss and waste, reduce climate impacts and economic losses, and accelerate progress on global goals.”

Progress in tracking

Since 2021, UNEP said that there’s been a strengthening of the data infrastructure with more studies tracking food waste. Globally, the number of data points at the household level “almost doubled”.

However, the report suggests many low- and middle-income countries continue to lack adequate systems for tracking progress to meet Sustainable Development Goal 12.3 of halving food waste by 2030, particularly in retail and food services.

Only four G20 countries – Australia, Japan, UK, the USA – and the European Union, have food waste estimates suitable for tracking progress to 2030.

UNEP said that the data confirms that food waste is not just a ‘rich country’ problem, with levels of household food waste differing in observed average levels for high-income, upper-middle, and lower-middle-income countries by just 7 kg per capita.


UNEP estimated that the toll of both food loss and waste on the global economy is £792.5 trillion.

Urban areas are expected to particularly benefit from efforts to strengthen food waste reduction and circularity. Rural areas generally waste less food, with greater diversion of food scraps to pets, livestock, and home composting as likely explanations.

As of 2022, only 21 countries are said to have included food loss and/or waste reduction in their national climate plans (NDCs).

“With the huge cost to the environment, society and global economies caused by food waste, we need greater coordinated action across continents and supply chains. We support UNEP in calling for more G20 countries to measure food waste and work towards SDG12.3,” said Harriet Lamb, CEO of WRAP. “This is critical to ensuring food feeds people, not landfills. Public-Private Partnerships are one key tool delivering results today, but they require support: whether philanthropic, business, or governmental, actors must rally behind programmes addressing the enormous impact wasting food has on food security, our climate, and our wallets.”

UNEP and WRAP have noted several solutions. One being systemic action through public-private partnerships (PPPs), bringing the public sector, private sector and non-government to work together, identify bottlenecks, co-develop solutions and drive progress.

Appropriate financing can enable PPPs to deliver farm-to-fork reductions in food waste, drive down GHGs emissions and water stress, while sharing best practices and encouraging innovation for long-term, holistic change.

To find out more about food waste, visit the National Letsrecycle.com Conference on 6 March at QEII Centre in London. To book tickets to attend or for more information please click here.

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